Politics

Gov. Matt Bevin issued five high-profile executive orders on Tuesday on issues ranging from same-sex marriage licenses to voting rights for ex-felons.

“Today, I took action to uphold several commitments I made during my campaign so that we can implement real solutions that will help the people of Kentucky,” said Bevin said in a press release.

Bevin ordered that the state’s marriage licenses will no longer require a county clerk’s signature. The documents were at the center of a national controversy this year, when Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue them after the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage bans.

Bevin’s predecessor, Steve Beshear, had said that licenses issued by Davis’ office without her signature were valid. The issue is at the center of an ongoing federal lawsuit.

William Sharp, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, said Bevin’s order added more uncertainty on the marriage licenses issue.

“The requirement that the county clerk’s name appear on marriage licenses is prescribed by Kentucky law and is not subject to unilateral change by the governor — conceded by the previous administration in court filings. Today, however, a new administration claims to have that authority,” Sharp said in a statement.

Bevin also rescinded Beshear’s executive order that granted voting rights to non-violent felons who have completed their sentences. Beshear’s order had made an estimated 180,000 people eligible to vote.

Bevin, a Republican, said the order doesn’t affect people who already had their rights restored.

Beshear’s order required qualified ex-felons to file a form before their voting rights were restored. It wasn’t immediately known how many Kentuckians had filed the necessary document.

“While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, for example, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people,” Bevin said.

Bevin also rescinded Beshear’s order that raised the minimum wage for executive branch workers and vendors from $7.25 to $10.10.

“This move by Gov. Bevin is a step backward for many hardworking Kentuckians who have seen their wages remain flat despite a growing economy,” said Kenny Colston, spokesman for the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

“While no current employee will see their increased wages be rolled back, this creates an unfair system for any new hires,” Colston said in a statement. “We encourage state lawmakers to take executive orders out of this completely by passing a statewide minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour.”

Bevin also issued a moratorium on hiring, saying that all vacant positions in state government will be reviewed “to determine if they are necessary.” The order shifts oversight of the state’s merit system hiring from the Governor’s Office to the Personnel Cabinet.

In a statement, Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo said:

“The issue of restoring certain rights for non-violent offenders who have paid their debt to society has bipartisan support and has passed the House many times, only to die in the Senate. It is now being championed by Rep. Darryl Owens, our new House Judiciary Committee chairman, and I hope his constitutional amendment will be given consideration in the Senate during the legislative session.

“As for the executive order on changing the form for marriage licenses, I was a very early proponent of doing something similar. It’s a simple fix, and I applaud the governor for finding a way to balance the law and the concerns that county clerks like mine in Floyd County had.”

Bevin also eliminated the Governor’s Employee Advisory Council, which makes recommendations on wages, working conditions and benefits of merit employees.

This story has been updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.